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What took a young Dutch director to a remote, rural part of Poland to make a film, asks Geoffrey Macnab of Dutch director Rosanne Pel, whose feature debut Light As Feathers is selected for TIFF Discovery.
"Of course, I get this question a lot of the time," she responds. The film, she points out, is set in the small, remote village of Osiecza Pierwsza. "I travelled to Poland to find the setting for the story, which is set in the geese plucking industry. I was hosted by different Polish families, and the family of Erik Walny (her eventual co-lead) was one of them. I had a good immediate connection with him, and also with the other family members in whom I found the perfect actors for the story."

The film is about a teenage boy who has a younger girlfriend, 13-year-old Claudia, whom he dotes on. He just doesn't know, though, how to draw a line between affection and abuse.

Pel had the idea for the film over five years ago, before she had graduated from the Netherlands Film Academy. She didn't want to portray the boy as evil, she underlines, nor without a tendency towards empathy. Instead, she was trying to understand what made him behave in such a way. Pel further underlines that all the actors are playing versions of themselves, and that the darker elements in the story have nothing to do with their real lives. What is striking is that the film is shot over a 3-year period and we see the young performers mature through their adolescence on screen.

In the film, Erik's father is out of the picture, and his strong-willed mother has numerous "passive acting boyfriends". The boy is very much under her influence. One of the main points of the film is that abuse takes place not between strangers but between people who might have otherwise caring and intimate relations with each other. Nor does it always happen in plain sight. "It's subtle and sneaky," Pel suggests. "This was the trigger for me to think we should tell different stories about it...I think we are dealing with very human behaviour. It [violence against women] is triggered by many circumstances."

In spite of the bleakness of its themes, this was a "playful" film to make. "But it gave permission to talk about serious topics. Youngsters also have thoughts on abuse and manipulation. Erik had his own frustrations growing up. One of the first things he showed me was a hole he had smashed in the wall when one of his dogs died. For him the film was a way to deal with emotions." That said, Erik may have been a non-professional but he turned out to be a screen natural. "I think he is a true actor," the director agrees. "I had the feeling he could imagine himself in situations that weren't close to him. He is highly intelligent and very sensitive. He could pick up things we were talking about so quickly."

The film was produced by A Family Affair and supported by the Netherlands Film Fund. Leading French sales outfit Wide Management is handling the international rights. Now, Pel is at work on her second feature, Padded Lady.

Yes, Pel has already shown Light As Feathers to the cast members in Poland (who will also be coming to Utrecht to see it at the Netherlands Film Festival). "I was really nervous about what they would think when they finally saw it," the director admits. After all, this was a Catholic country and she was exploring uncomfortable themes which some might have preferred swept under the carpet. "But the reactions were good...it was actually a huge relief for me," Pel says. "They said that if the story had been real-life it would have been the same film. A bigger compliment I couldn't get from them."

SEE NL Magazine #32 September 2018 / Venice, TIFF & NFF Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.


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